This October, Thandie Newton appears onscreen as two disparate divas: ruthless accountant Stella in Guy Ritchie’s crime caper RocknRolla and stylish secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in W, Oliver Stone’s Bush biopic. Addressing both Ritchie’s alleged homophobia and the gossip around Rice’s sexual orientation, the BAFTA Award–winning Crash star — who played Tom Cruise’s love interest in Mission: Impossible II — also reveals a recurring theme in her life of lusting after gay men.
The Advocate: How are you, Thandie?
Thandie Newton: Yesterday I was in bed all day shivering, so I feel pretty rubbish.
I hope I can make you feel better.
C’mon, then. Cheer me up.
Well, gays adore you! Are you aware of that fan base?
I’m not aware of any fan base at all, to be honest — apart from Germans, who, for some reason, make me very aware of them. Is it big?
This isn’t called Big Gay Following for nothing.
I love that! I have to admit, I have quite a large number of gay friends.
Who’s your closest one?
My friend Ford, whom I’m about to have lunch with. He’s a production designer, and I met him when he was a property master on Beloved; we’ve been close ever since. He’s seven foot tall and gorge. You know what? When I see him I’m going to brag about my big gay following.
Do you remember when you first realized what it meant to be gay?
Oh, God, yeah. My godfather is gay, but I was also a bridesmaid at my cousin Dorothy’s wedding — she’s from Zimbabwe — and she married a man who we all knew was gay. Even me, and I was 5 years old! A couple of years later they parted company, and he went off to explore his true calling. So yeah, it’s very much in my social genes.
Dorothy sounds a bit like your character Stella in RocknRolla.
Yes, [Stella] is married to Bertie, who’s gay. Women feel very relaxed and comfortable around gay men. Gay men are more evolved emotionally than straight men and stronger too, because they’ve had to make claims that are very often difficult to make in our social environment. So there’s that strength and sensitivity we crave. For Stella, there’s all of that, I imagine, but the fact that she’s married to this guy is much more of a tactical move. Also, she doesn’t need a man to empower her, so what’s the point of marriage?
Have you ever unwittingly been attracted to a gay man?
I have. I was on a movie with Jon Bon Jovi called The Leading Man — camp as Christmas, that one — and my makeup artist was a man called Robert McCann. He was Nicole Kidman’s makeup artist for six, seven years. Oh, I absolutely adored him! I thought he was straight because he had a son and he wasn’t displaying his gayness. He was a handsome, sweet, lovely man, so I thought, OK, cool, I’m single… I discovered later that he’d been with his partner, Peter, for 15 years. I was like, “How in the fuck did you have a kid, then?” It was the only time he’d had sex with a woman, when he was 21, and she got pregnant. Robert died three years ago of a heart attack. He was really one of my top three closest friends, but it all started with lust. I remember he was doing my makeup in my trailer one day — this is after I knew he was gay — and I wanted to get his attention, but I accidentally touched his groinal region. Significantly. He was Scottish, and he said, “Ooh, Pat McGroin!” So from then on, to his horror, I called him “Pat.” He hated it, but he loved me enough to let me get away with it. But my first sexual crush was Tim Curry in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’m not kidding you.
Christopher Ciccone claims in his recent tell-all that writer-director Guy Ritchie is homophobic. What do you make of that?
I read an interview with Guy where he said it’s very hard to be a homophobe if you’re married to Madonna, and I think that’s absolutely true. She’s the all-time fag hag. I know Guy, and he’ll sometimes use language which is supposedly un-P.C. — like, he’ll say “poof” — but at the same time, he himself is not un-P.C.
There's a gay character in RocknRolla named Handsome Bob.
I don’t think the whole story line with Handsome Bob is offensive, and Tom Hardy [who plays Bob] is clearly the most beautiful boy in the movie. The way it’s addressed is actually sensitive and humorous. Ultimately, it’s about friendship and encouraging someone who’s uptight in his machoness to have a different perspective.
As the only female on that set, did you suffer from testosterone overload?
You see Gerard Butler with those fierce eyes, and there’s lots of aggression, and everyone’s being beat up, but the truth is that these are actors. To be an actor you have to be in touch with your feminine side. They aren’t your typical men, because they have to be more sensitive — that’s their job. So I was actually surrounded by sweet, talkative, emotionally available men, which is very surprising. I actually felt like I wielded the most power.
Especially in Stella’s heels.
Oh, didn’t you love them? Who doesn’t love Christian Louboutin? But wait till you see me as Condoleezza Rice, my darling. She takes such care over her appearance, it’s just delicious. The way she presents herself is extremely important to her. Her clothes are her skin. She clearly has a wardrobe fetish.
What was your favorite Condi outfit?
She did a piece for Vogue, and she said to them, I don’t want a stylist. I always wear my own clothes for photo shoots. But the stylist did have a rack of stuff, so within minutes Condi’s just fingering through the rack, and she comes across this claret-red Armani suit that she did actually wear in the piece. That was one that I particularly liked because she’d been so adamant that she wasn’t going to wear any of their shit, but then she lusted after this suit, wore it, and kept it, apparently.
Were the fake teeth you wear in W a pain?
No, I loved them. I intend to wield them out whenever it’s appropriate.
Is Condi’s sexual orientation addressed in the film? Do we see her gal pal Randy Bean or gay friend Coit Blacker?
No, because the movie isn’t about Condoleezza; it’s about Bush, so it only addresses whatever pertains to that. But some of the stuff that Randy Bean is saying about George Bush has been vicious, and where that stuff is coming from, I don’t know. I personally don’t feel Condoleezza is a gay woman. I think the fact that she isn’t in a relationship is partly because of her disciplined nature. There’s a disconnect that can happen with people who are so obsessed with and devoted to their careers that disallows them from actually following their true nature. So, God knows, she might be a lesbian, but I don’t think there’s enough of an emotional connection with herself to really know.
Your husband, Ol Parker, wrote and directed the lesbian romantic comedy Imagine Me & You. Couldn’t you have snagged a role, considering you were sleeping with him?
As he says, he literally fucked his movie, because I got pregnant just before filming. It was a beautiful story, and the movie was actually about him and me. He couldn’t believe that I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him, so he drew a lot from those feelings. The fact that I wasn’t in it meant that the movie was truly about him. I loved being home every night, making him some nice food, and being a sounding board for him. I was so proud of him.
Have you ever experimented with a woman?
Yes, I had my rite of passage. I was 16, and I wasn’t really in control of the situation, if you know what I mean. It was much more about a male fantasy of seeing two women together. But I loved the girl a lot; she was one of my closest friends. I think falling in love is actually more about falling in love with an individual. We’re all potentially bisexual; it all depends on your circle, your upbringing, and all kinds of things. Or maybe I’m just talking about myself. I could’ve easily fallen in love with a woman over a man. My husband Ol’s kind of a man-woman. Look, I once loved Tim Curry, so there you go.
To which women are you most attracted?
I regularly have girl-crushes on mums of other kids. I actually stalked one woman whose kid is one of my daughter’s closest friends. Solange Azagury-Partridge, a fantastic jeweler in London, is one of my girl-crushes right now, and she knows it.
Do you ever imagine what your life might’ve been like if you’d stayed with former boyfriend Brad Pitt?
[Laughs] You are so naughty! Oh, my Lord. No, I do not. But I very much hope to achieve the same number of children in my life. I’m going to start competing with my alter ego that got left behind. [Laughs] You’ve perked me right up! You’re my ibuprofen.
The Advocate, October 2008; extended online version.